Thursday, 30 August 2012

Ghosts, weeping statues and the resurrection, part one

I have encountered (and written about) a challenge people sometimes make to the reports of miracles in the Bible and particularly the resurrection.  I have recently met it again and want to offer a few thoughts on it again.  The challenge is this - there are loads of reports of supernatural or miraculous events, and you don't believe them, so why do you believe in the resurrection?

The objector mentioned ghost stories and weeping statues of Mary.  Is the Christian closing his eyes to evidence that is as strong or stronger than the evidence for the resurrection?  Is he just swallowing the miracle report he wants to swallow then switching his brain back on to evaluate other claims?  Should he bite the bullet and accept all miracle reports or else accept none?  No, No and No.

Consider first of all the culture in which the report took place.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ was reported in first century Judaism, and it has been conclusively demonstrated that the Jews believed only in a general resurrection that would take place at the end of time.  You can see that in the reaction of the disciples when the Lord spoke about Him rising from the dead ("from among the dead" is really the literal force of the expression). 

Furthermore, they had no expectation of a Messiah who would suffer and die.  When messianic pretenders were killed people moved on, they drew the conclusion that anyone who dies at the hands of our oppressors obviously isn't the Messiah.  Their notion of Messiah was a political deliverer.  But despite the fact their leader had died a horrific and humiliating death on a cross (being hanged on a tree, according to the Law of Moses, indicated the curse of God upon the individual), they maintained their belief that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, and they worshipped Him.  Which brings me to the next point on the issue of culture.

Another aspect of the culture was its strong and strict emphasis on monotheism.  Since their return from Babylon, whatever problems the Jews had, idolatry wasn't one of them.  These were not people who would be given to worshipping men, so obviously something monumental happened that would lead these Jews to worship and honour as God a man who had been crucified. 

Part of the Jewish culture was the ceremonial law with its sacrifices, circumcision, holy days, and dietary requirements.  These were not mere incidentals - they were symbols of their covenant with God, and essential to maintaining that covenant.  Yet these Jews gave them up.  Why would they dare do that unless they were utterly convinced that those ceremonies had served their purpose and had their fulfilment?

I hope you can see that, as we consider the culture in which the resurrection was reported, there is nothing analogous to that in any miracle reports you might hear today.  The claims that Jesus of Nazareth is the divine Son of God, worthy of worship, the only way to God, the fulfilment of every ceremonial ritual, the necessary and sufficient sacrifice for sin, and the one bringing in the New Covenant, are so shocking and massive in the background of that culture that only His glorious resurrection from the dead could induce such a belief.

We'll look at other ways in which the resurrection of Christ is unique in subsequent posts, Lord willing.